This year’s show is all set to be bigger than ever, at least in my humble opinion because we have 400 workshops this year as well as trunk shows daily by Jenny Doan of Missouri Quilts. We’ve also got many other international stars eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for all things patchwork and quilting. But it doesn’t end there, we have classes on printing, dyeing, embroidery, felting and surface decoration by hand or machine – free motion embroidery and more. There really is something for everyone, as you can see from the images below.
My particular passion is sewing with a sewing machine – using it to not just make my latest project, but also to utilise the wonderful stitches and feet that are available and to embellish with relish. I love to take a traditional patchwork quilt and add dimensions with hand stitching, buttons and more. So I am particularly happy that we have so many classes that involve surface decoration – utilising embroidery stitches and free motion – by hand and machine. So to get you in the mood, I thought I’d share some of my top tips on getting the most from your sewing machine.
A bit of maintenance
Firstly, a gentle reminder to clean out the bobbin race regularly – particularly when you’ve been quilting with fibrous wadding! It is something that we all intend to do, but so often the next project beckons and it gets forgotten. A clean, dust and lint free bobbin race will help the machine sew, so much better! As will a fresh new needle. Skipped stitches are often the result of a blunt needle but worse can happen as a blunt needle can also snag delicate fabrics, causing unsightly runs! So definitely use a new needle with a new project – or every 8 hours of sewing.
Needle know how
Talking of needles, using the correct needle for the job can make all the difference. A lovely metallic thread will add a bit of glitter and glam to even straight stitch but some people are wary of these threads as they can shred. Use a Metallic needle and slow the machine down (if you have a sliding speed dial, set it to medium) or just go gently on the foot pedal. Metallic needles have a slightly larger and coated eye to cope with the metal in the threads. Metallic thread used in a standard needle may cut a slight nick in the eye of the needle, causing threads to shred. And metallic threads behave better if sewn at mid speed.
Another needle that is a must-have as far as I am concerned is a twin needle. These come in all the different needle types, from stretch and ball point, to embroidery and universal. They also come with different gaps between the needles, so typically, you may have an 80/12 1.6mm – which means it is a size 80/12 (standard for most woven fabrics) with a 1.6mm gap between the needles. For decorative stitching a 1.6 to 2mm gap is perfect. For top stitching, use one with a 3 or 4mm gap between the needles. Thread the two top threads together through the upper threading system, until you get to the last hook just above the needle eye. Thread one behind the hook and leave the other out so that they don’t tangle before the needle. Underneath the bobbin thread will zigzag between the top threads so always make sure you stitch with the right side of the work uppermost. You can use lots of the decorative stitches – they look really good if two different coloured top threads are used – just make sure that they are no wider than 5mm – adjust the width if necessary. That way you can be sure both needles will fit through the aperture in the presser foot and the throat plate. I do tend to check the stitch through the whole sequence by turning the balance wheel by hand before putting foot to pedal though!
You can also do some lovely pin tucks using the twin needle and a straight stitch. These make lovely surface decoration on a plain fabric border.
All change feet
I often find that students are also reluctant to change the presser feet, and often stick to what they know – keeping to the standard zigzag foot or quarter inch foot. But do use your open toe satin stitch foot or applique foot when sewing decorative stitches; it makes it easier to see what and where you stitching and the slight indentation on the underside will help glide over concentrated stitching. Also do make sure you back the fabric being sewn if using concentrated decorative stitches otherwise the fabric will pucker permanently. There are many types of stabiliser from the the traditional tear-away to solubles and even heat-away stabilisers. Of course, if you are adding embellishment to a quilt top you can add the wadding underneath first and that will not only stabilise the area but also provide more texture surface.
Most quilters will have used a walking foot when quilting but not everyone has used the quilter’s guide that so often accompanies the foot. In fact, it is often in the tool kit included with a sewing machine as it can also be inserted into the back of the ankle (presser foot holder) and used with other presser feet. But it is definitely an under-used gadget! It is a metal rod with curved end, that is inserted either into a gap at the back of the ankle or into the back of the walking foot. Having stitched one row, decide how close or far you want the next row and then move the guide in or out so it sits on the previous row of stitching with the chosen gap between guide and needle. You sew the next, and the next and the next row, getting perfectly parallel rows every time, (as you sew, keep the guide along the previous stitching). This little device is not just good for straight rows of quilting but also for row after row of decorative stitching when it can be difficult to remain straight as the needle moves side to side, back and forward creating a complex stitch. Using this metal rod running along the centre of the previous stitched row will ensure multi-rows in glorious colour all running parallel!
The show itself
As well as the whole host of workshops, there are also of course our lovely exhibitors who will be ready and waiting to sell the latest products, haberdashery, fabrics and machines to our international visitors who flock to the show. And the galleries that are such an integral part of the show must be seen to be believed this year. Full of inspiration and wonderful textile works, they help to make The Festival of Quilts what it is today. There is also a Festival Dinner celebrating The Guild’s 40th Birthday with Michael James as key note speaker (Thursday) and Fashion Show showcasing some wonderful garments from our Russian colleagues (Friday early evening) and as well as the Awards ceremony on Thursday and of course as mentioned earlier, 2-hour trunk shows from the renown Jenny Doan.
How to get tickets
To preview the workshop programmes, click here to visit The Festival website and look for the Workshop PDFs. Booking of entry tickets and workshop tickets opens to Quilters’ Guild members on Monday 8th April and then to the general public on the 15th April. To book as a Guild member, log into the membership page of the Guild website. Full instructions and a discount code will be sent by post and email to you.
By Wendy Gardiner, Workshop Director, Festival of Quilts
As well as being the Workshop Director for Festival of Quilts, Wendy is author of 21 books on sewing, including The Sewing Machine Accessory Bible which is all about feet and needles and Fun with Fat Quarters published by Search Press. She is also a guest presenter for Create and Craft TV has just completed two more books for Search Press on using fat quarters. She also teaches regularly at different venues around the country.